Marc-André Hamelin / Vladimir Jurowski / London Philharmonic Orchestra

Medtner: Piano Concerto No. 2; Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3

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Medtner: Piano Concerto No. 2; Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3 Review

by James Manheim

There are abundant recordings on the market of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30, fewer of Nikolay Medtner's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 50, and fewer still of the two together. This is a shame, for the two pieces present a fine study in comparison, contrast, and even mutual admiration: Medtner's concerto was dedicated to Rachmaninov (who had just dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40, to Medtner). And Marc-André Hamelin is the perfect pianist to bring out the relationship. The first movement of the Medtner, marked "Toccata," is not quite the quasi-improvisatory work that name might imply, but rather an intricate weaving of piano and orchestra, as opposed to the profusion of big tunes offered by Rachmaninov. The London Philharmonic under Vladimir Jurowski is the needed full partner to Hamelin, who can handle the brutal, technical demands posed by both works while still getting their different feels in a subtle, even delicate, way. Sample the first movement of the Medtner, and you'll wonder why this work isn't at the center of the concerto repertory. As for the Rachmaninov itself, you can find more heroic, hell-for-leather versions, but one suspects that the composer, who was famed for precision and staccato clarity, would have preferred Hamelin's playing. With top-notch Henry Wood Hall sound as a bonus, this is a memorable recording of Russian piano repertory.

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